Movie reviews: Monsters University

A prequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001), the animated tale Monsters University (G) takes us back in time to discover how Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) became the fearsome, child-scaring beasts we all know and love.

The pair meet at college, where monsters go to learn the various aspects of terror, although only the cream of the crop will graduate as child-scarers. Mike, a green ‘beachball’ with one eye, is determined to succeed but simply not terrifying; Sulley, the son of a famous father, coasts through his classes on reputation and his appearance. Lumped together with all the other also-rans in a competition to decide who will move up to the elite programme, Mike and Sulley must join forces to prove the sceptical Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) of their worth. The latest offering from Disney / Pixar, Monsters University is a vibrant and lushly colourful affair — the eponymous college is both a parody of, and a love letter to, Ivy League academia — and the detail, as always, is fabulous. The story lacks a little of the oomph of the first outing, however. That concept — monsters are terrified of children, but must scare them as the monster’s world runs on the energy of human children’s screams — was delightfully original and subversive, but Monsters University is a straightforward tale of the geeks inheriting the earth, as our heroes, spurned by the cool frat house fraternity, deploy brain to overcome brawn.

Steven Spielberg recently predicted that Hollywood is heading for some kind of apocalypse, that a handful of big blockbusters will tank at the box office and their failures will change the way movies are made forever. Pacific Rim (12A) won’t suffer such disaster thanks to those intriguing posters but unless you’re a 12-year-old boy who hasn’t seen Transformers, Godzilla, or Power Rangers (quite possible, actually), there’s nothing going on here. Set in the near future where giant monsters called Kaigus creep out of the Pacific Ocean from a ‘breach’ between their universe and ours (don’t ask), our last line of defence, Jaegers — giant robots piloted by two controllers that are connected by a neural ‘drift’ (don’t ask) — have been successful until a new wave of Kaigus prove too powerful. The UN pulls funding so in steps Undeclared’s Charlie Hunnam, a maverick pilot who likes to disobey Idris Elba’s (The Wire) orders, to convince the world that Jaegers can still bring the pain. A big B Movie, or a cheapo Japanese TV series with a budget, Pacific Rim will live and die on its action scenes — basically big robots hitting bigger monsters — but when those scenes are set at night, in the rain, or underwater, and delivered with choppy cuts, visibility becomes an issue. Maybe it’s to disguise any potential special effects snafus.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (15A) is a flawed but fascinating documentary from writer/director Alex Gibney about the website that facilitated, among other things, the whistle-blowing information dump from US army soldier Bradley Manning, which revealed horrific details about how the war in Iraq was being conducted. Its main flaw is a lack of contemporary interview material with Julian Assange, although given that Assange — the brains trust behind the Wikileaks website — has been holed up in an Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past year, this is perhaps understandable. The film does feature archive footage of interviews with Assange, and in part charts his rise from a politically naïve computer hacker in Australia in the 1980s to his position as the poster boy for international free speech; running parallel to Assange’s story is that of Bradley Manning, a compellingly complex man who is either a traitor or a hero, depending on how you view his actions. The film is by no means a hagiography: it also explores the allegations of sexual assault made against Julian Assange by two Swedish women, his refusal to accede to a European arrest warrant, and the claims made by ex-Wikileaks employees that Assange has become a paranoid, power-hungry exemplar of all he previously he opposed. It’s a powerful, compelling tale for our times, a thought-provoking piece that will leave you pondering its contradictions long after the credits have rolled.


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